Fat-shaming response to Nike’s plus-size mannequins shows just how far we still have to go

Nike plus-size mannequins on display in London / Image source: allure.com
Nike plus-size mannequins on display in London / Image source: allure.com

Fat-shaming response to Nike's plus-size mannequins shows just how far we still have to go

It’s been almost a month since London’s flagship Nike store unveiled its new mannequins. Displayed alongside more traditional ones, the new mannequins showcase Nike’s plus-size clothing line. Nike, unlike a number of mainstream fitness brands, carries a range of sizes from XS (0-2) to XL (14-16). As the average American woman wears a size 16, it is more necessary than ever to provide all body types with stylish, flexible, high-quality exercise wear.

However, not everyone celebrated the unveiling of the new mannequins as a sign of progress, inclusivity, and acceptance of body diversity. In an editorial published in the Telegraph, a columnist berated Nike’s move as delusional. She went on to shame the mannequin and make dangerous assumptions about health. Because I don’t want to contribute to the many clicks this article has already received, I will not directly name the so-called journalist or include a link. If you want to be disappointed in humanity, all you need to do is google “Nike mannequins Telegraph.”

Should we be surprised that this opinion exists? Not really. It’s just one of many negative voices that athletes who do not conform to traditional sizes and shapes have come to expect when they look for clothing that fits properly, offers enough coverage and support, and looks great. From athletic-wear CEOs casually saying their clothing isn’t for all women to incredible female athletes being criticized for what they wear to compete, the athletic-wear industry is a battleground. With the rise of athleisure, casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and general use, it is more critical than ever that companies embrace body diversity if they want to make profits and set trends.

While so many amazing women of all sizes have shattered the assumptions that there is a specific size and shape for an athlete, the idea that only certain types of people should even participate in exercise is pervasive in our culture. Yes, it is changing — but progress is slow.

As much as we may not want to admit it, many of us are still prisoner to this idea that overweight means unhealthy. Our society still looks at BMI as an easy way to classify and put people into groups. We look at the outward presentation of thinness and the numbers on the scale instead (link to How to Measure Your Progress) of celebrating our own accomplishments every time we lace up our running shoes.

The truth is that we all need to stop making generalizations about health and even berating ourselves for what we look like instead of what we can achieve. There are slender people who pass cardio benchmarks effortlessly. However, there are larger people running marathons and achieving the perfect balance of healthy and unhealthy cholesterol. Being limited by out-of-date biases will only keep us hating ourselves and reinforcing negativity. Change is slow, but if we want to all move towards acceptance and kindness, we need to start with ourselves.

TrainingSpaces is marking its one-year anniversary!

Laura Rantin working with a partner.

TrainingSpaces is marking its one-year anniversary!

Today marks a year since TrainingSpaces opened its doors for business.

It was always our dream to create a place that redefined what makes a fitness studio special. We didn’t do it with scented towels or fancy lighting schemes. We focused on quality, inclusion, and community, and built a space that was right for everyone.

We started with just empty space. Then we installed special flooring, a sound system, a Wifi network, and state-of-the-art fitness equipment.

We started with two trainers. Since then, we’ve grown to a roster of 13 trainers with dozens of clients, putting in hours of training seven days a week. From weight loss to strength training and flexibility, all goals and fitness levels are celebrated. We have also been able to offer group classes, bodywork, specialized stretching, diet counselling, and bellydance. Whatever the approach, TrainingSpaces continues to redefine the boundaries of wellness.

We have a growing Instagram presence and our own YouTube channel. Our mailing list continues to add subscribers every week. And we’re boosting traffic to our website and climbing the search-engine rankings with weekly blog updates.

Not bad for one year.

But it wouldn’t be possible without you — our trainers, our clients, and our readers.

And if you thought Year One was a good start, there’s much more to accomplish in Year Two.

Join us and let’s see where the next year takes us!

Is it authentic, or just a manufactured influencer? Be wary of ‘advice’ contrived via social media

social media influencers / Image source: appinstitute.com
social media influencers / Image source: appinstitute.com

Is it authentic, or just a manufactured influencer? Be wary of ads contrived via social media

If you are engaged in social media, and especially Instagram, you are probably familiar with the power of influencers. These are ordinary people, just like you and me, who lovingly curate their feeds with inspirational photos of their meals, exercise routines, glorious sunrises, and breathtaking sunsets. They tag their posts with #blessed, #fitspo, and #empowered — and offer us all a slice of a more perfect life. It can be fun to thumb through the feeds of people of all shapes and sizes living their best lives and offering us that push that we can do it too.

Influencers can be found in all corners of the online fitness social communities. From trainers to fit-at-any-size marathoners to mothers entering their first weightlifting competitions, social media has given voice to those who might not fit the stereotype of a typical fitness devotee.

Recently, high levels of Instagram user engagement have given companies an opportunity to capitalize on users with thousands of followers.These Instagram ads, for which influencers can be paid an estimated $1,000 per 100,000 followers, are selling not just a product but an entire lifestyle. They also might be selling bad fitness and diet-related advice.

9 out of 10 patients look to influencers and online communities when making health and wellness decisions. 94% of people share influencer-driven health information with others.

But let’s think about the reality of these influencers. Are they qualified to provide wellness advice? Or are they motivated by a desire to promote certain products or simply to further their personal brands? Because sponcon (sponsored content) can be positioned alongside other posts, it can be difficult to separate the paid ads from the personal stories.

As you scroll through different feeds, keep an eye out for these paid promotions masquerading as solid lifestyle advice. Because influencers are more likely to be ordinary people and not celebrities, they are more valuable to sponsors and appear more trustworthy. Having 100,000 followers does not make you a fitness expert. It does not make you a qualified trainer or a nutritionist. What it makes you is a person with beautiful photos and a performance of authenticity that appeals to your followers.

Before you take advice from anyone you follow on social media, take a moment to evaluate this advice. Is there a prominent brand name dominating the caption? Could these before and after photos be altered in any way? Are you taking advice from influencers you would never even consider if it came from your best friend, a neighbour, or a casual acquaintance?

If you said answered “yes” to any of these questions, maybe it’s time to click “unfollow”.

Economics 101: is joining a gym worth the investment?

Is a gym membership worth the investment? / Image credit: Victor Freitas
Is a gym membership worth the investment? / Image credit: Victor Freitas

Economics 101: is joining a gym worth the investment?

Thinking of joining a gym?

Last week, we talked about how to make New Year’s resolutions that last longer than February 1st. If you’ve taken my advice, you’ve focused on a single resolution with small, realistic changes. We’ve also discussed setting SMART goals and how having a measurable goal makes it easier to keep track of your progress.

If your resolution is to train for that 5K, lose 20 pounds, or take a new fitness class, you might be thinking of joining one of the big box gyms that are found on almost every main intersection. They are convenient and provide you with both cardio and weight machines. They also offer a range of classes from boxing to dance. For some people, the gym is a one-stop-shop for everything fitness. For most, they are a terrible investment.

While membership fees vary, the industry-wide average falls in at $58 per month, or $696 per year. On top of the monthly fee, some gyms often tack on an “annual fee” (paid at the start of each new membership cycle), and an “initiation fee” (a one-time fee that can run as high as $250, due upon signing).

If you were to use the gym seven times a week, every week, you would be getting a great deal. However, a study run by UC Berkeley economists found that while members anticipate visiting a gym 9.5 times per month, they only end up going 4.17 times per month. That works out to 50 visits per year.

If you are serious about achieving your goals but don’t want to pay for something that you don’t use, think about the role the gym will play in your workout schedule. What does it offer that you currently need? Will you be joining just for a place to run while the weather is cold, or do you want the guided instruction of classes?

If it’s to take a specialized class, are there other studios dedicated to this activities that can fill the gap (e.g., spin, crossfit box, or yoga studio)? These places don’t have monthly maintenance fees and work on different payment schedules. You can find group fitness classes to fit your budget and figure out which studio or activity best fits your goals.

If you are looking for a place to run and lift weights on your own, there are several contract-free gyms in Toronto. With low monthly fees and no perks, you might miss your scented towels, but you will have a basic gym with well-maintained equipment.

Finally, consider building your own home gym. If you have the space, you can turn that spare room — or even spare corner — into your perfect gym. Investing in durable pieces of gym equipment may feel like an initial expense, but once you add up the payments, it’s a great investment. And if you don’t want to commit to purchasing a cardio machine, free weights from Winners or Canadian Tire are a good starting point. There are many apps (free and paid) that can take you through heart-pounding workouts and require minimal equipment. Buy a wall-mount bracket for your tablet so you don’t have to keep checking your phone during a workout. You can also use this during your cardio sessions to replace those gym televisions which always have poor reception or shows you can’t change.

Joining a gym gives you a place to work out, but is it your best fitness investment? The truth is that it may be. You might like the convenience, classes, and services. However, for many people, being stuck in a contract will result in overall frustration. Figure out what role the gym will play before you give them access to your bank account.

We wish you a merry Fit-mas: TrainingSpaces’ holiday gift guide

Image source: bengreenfieldfitness.com
Image source: bengreenfieldfitness.com

We wish you a merry Fit-mas: TrainingSpaces' holiday gift guide

Giving gifts can be difficult. With a list that extends to include everyone from that secret Santa person you never met to your closest friends, the holidays can be overwhelming — not to mention expensive.

And what about those fit people in your life? Whether they are a five-times-a-week yogi or an occasional walker, here’s a gift guide to help the people you love stay healthy into 2019.

 

Here are just a few suggestions. Did we miss anything you’ve gifted recently to an active friend? Let us know and we’ll put together a part 2 of this list.

When it’s not just you: is Crossfit the new step aerobics?

Crossfit with kettlebells / Image credit: crossfitthebridge.com

When it's not just you: is CrossFit the new step aerobics?

Maybe you’re like me and remember when gyms boasted Step Aerobics classes by the dozens. Or maybe you can still do a grapevine. But it’s also possible that you are young enough not to even know what a grapevine is. In the 90s, Step and low-impact cardio aerobics were everywhere. These classes had one intention: get your heart rate up.

Cardio was the key to weight loss. And that was it. It’s funny to think of this now because we wouldn’t imagine a cardio-only option in group classes. Even spinning has incorporated short weights sets.

There are trends we hope to never see again. If you talk to someone who was an avid stepper, they probably have knee problems. Slamming your leg on a plastic step in time with the music will undoubtedly leave you with physical scars. Of course, at the time, we didn’t really know any different.

But if we look at the history of group fitness, we can see a direct evolution between our past and our future. While we can laugh about classes of women all hooked up to vibrating belts, we can actually see a correlation between this and current EMS training. Sure, the equipment of today is much more sophisticated but the intention remains the same. Those 1970s leggings of Jazzercize have become the 2018 leggings of Barre. As we learn more about the body and what works (and what doesn’t), exercise trends edit themselves.

And no matter what the exercise was, one thing remains consistent. Community has been a large part of most group exercise classes. Whether it’s a friendly face at the door or recognizing your best fitness friend or that nemesis in the front row who performs every exercise with too much energy, exercising in groups has always been part of the equation.

For many people, being part of a class provides them with more than motivation. If you look at the rise of CrossFit boxes, the emphasis is on working out together. A recent F45 studio that opened in my neighbourhood has asked everyone attending classes to pose for photos to promote a more communal feeling. Knowing people by name reduces barriers between the instructors and class attendees. It also makes it easier to call you for a simple correction.

Humans are social creatures. Getting a friendly smile from someone who is also trying to wrestle with a kettlebell or cheering on those who cross the finish line last in a running club provides us with a dopamine rush of success and belonging. If you’ve ever wondered what happens in a mysterious exercise class, you’re more likely to enlist a friend to join you. There is strength in numbers and shared motivation through friendship. And it’s more difficult to cancel on a friend than cancelling a class.

As exercise trends will continue to develop in weird and wonderful ways (mermaid class anyone?), class fitness isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s becoming more and more segregated with studios popping up for very specific purposes. So whether you prefer to attend anonymously or are looking forward to joining your crossfit friends for a full fat latte to celebrate how you’ve crushed the W.O.D., trying a class can shake up your routine.

Image sources: crossfitthebridge.com, crossfithavoc.com, beautyheaven.au.com

Consent cards turn yoga studios into safe spaces

Consent cards make it easier for yoga students to indicate whether they welcome hands-on adjustment. Image credit: yogabysarah.com

Consent cards bring respect for personal space back to the yoga industry

Consent cards / Image credit: Yoga Standards Project / yastandards.comA couple of months ago, I wrote about my feelings about yoga. I was tired of the commercialization and the guru culture that permeates so many studios. While I loved how yoga made me feel and the health benefits, I had conflicting feelings about yoga culture. As yoga shifted from a physical meditation practice to a lifestyle, we compromised the intention behind the act. However, we also gained new practitioners — open to challenging themselves and attempting a new approach to wellness.

The yoga studio developed a reverence akin to a religious space and spirituality was often intertwined with exercise. As yoga studios began to spring up everywhere — just walk three blocks in any major city and see if you can’t find a yoga studio — we also became complacent to some of the more unsavoury practices going on behind those walls.   

As the #MeToo movement has grown, we’ve seen yoga studios called out as locations for sexual assaults. From those who gave their names to entire practices to specific teachers who performed handsy hands-on adjustments, yoga joined the number of industries where abuses of power were not discussed. By shifting the focus from the yoga practice itself by exalting those teaching it, the power shifts dramatically from student to teacher. That quiet spirituality we were asked to embrace became synonymous with not speaking up.

Fortunately, through exposés and public sharing, we’ve started to reclaim yoga studios as the safe spaces they were always intended to be. At a recent visit to a local Toronto studio, I was asked to take a Consent Card and place it next to my mat. One side featured the words “It’s OK to offer me hand-on adjustments during this class.” The other read “No thanks I’d prefer not to receive hands-on adjustments today.

This is how yoga students are taking their power back and silently informing instructors of boundaries and offering consent. By actively flipping the card to either side, the student is making a conscious decision whether or not they want to be adjusted. And for those of us too shy to tell an instructor they don’t want to be touched, they are ideal. For many students, their reverence for their teachers put them in vulnerable positions. Also, consider some of the trickier poses that we hold in class. I know there have been times where I’ve been in camel pose and seen an instructor walk by … and have thought to myself “just keep walking … just keep walking ….” Depending on the day, hands-on adjustments can go from being helpful to intrusive. For those of us protecting injuries, we are fearful that a simple correction may push us beyond a place of comfort.

As studios realize, like most industries, how easily power has been abused — the responsibility is theirs to protect their students. Consent Cards will not separate the teachers from the abusers, but they are a step in the right direction. We need to proudly take one at the start of a class and display it honestly. We also need to encourage all yoga studios to partake in this practice. After all, how can you focus on inner peace when you’re worried about being touched inappropriately in the guise of correction?


 

TrainingSpaces is pleased to welcome strength training specialist and Globe columnist Paul Landini. “I specialize in helping beginners become masters, in taking the complexity out of weight training so that you can walk into any gym in the world with confidence. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how inexperienced; if you’re willing to put in the work, I guarantee results.”

To book time with Paul or any of our other trainers,  just complete the contact form below.

Spinning isn’t scary: a group workout that lets you forget about what you’re wearing

Spinning class / Image credit: Duvine.com

Spinning isn't scary: a group workout that lets you forget about what you're wearing

At its very core, spinning is a cardio workout on a stationary bicycle in a group exercise environment. Despite the rise in studios with their expensive merchandise and inspirational mantras, spinning is not an elite activity that should be only attempted by those looking for a transformational experience. It can be intimidating to set foot in these highly curated environments and feel out-of-place in your worn gym clothes.

But if you are curious about trying spinning, here’s what happens once you enter the darkened world of the studio.  It’s not scary. It’s fun, challenging, and highly individualized. And you are in control of the workout the entire time.

At your first class, make sure to get the instructor’s help setting up your bike. Every studio has slightly different equipment so it’s worth checking in with the staff about proper form. If you need to clip in with special spinning shoes, don’t worry if it takes you a while to get the hang of it. Even between studios, each bike may have their own particular quirk. It helps to step into the pedal and snap down as if you were in motion. Like any piece of equipment, the more you are familiar with it, the easier it gets. Again, don’t be afraid to ask the staff for help clipping in.

Most spin studios are incorporating one session of arm exercises as part of the 50-minute class. Make sure to check the weights on your bike and adjust as necessary. The arm workout is not long but it can be challenging. Choose a weight that you think you can work with and will accommodate biceps, triceps, and shoulder reps.

During the class, the instructor may turn up the music or their microphone very loudly to encourage an atmosphere of intensity. Some studios have earplugs available so don’t be shy about grabbing a pair (or bring your own!) if you are sensitive to noise. It’s better to be comfortable than in pain — some of the instructors are loud. Really loud.

Throughout the class, you’ll be guided through each song. The instructor will suggest how much tension to add to the bike. You can adjust as necessary. Because spin is an individual exercise in a group activity, it’s ideal for people who are just starting out or recovering from an injury. You can work at your own pace or even feel free to change up the activity. Studios are usually dark, even candle-lit, so it won’t be obvious if you are unable to keep pace with the pack. Do your own workout or follow the instructor. As long as you are challenging yourself, you’ll be fine.

In other blogs, we’ve discussed exercise types that are conducive to forming cults of personality. Lead by charismatic instructors or studio owners who believe their own hype, these people can cloud the true purpose of the activity. Spin has recently become one of those places where aesthetics appears to be more important than athletics. Don’t be dissuaded. By focusing on what is happening inside the studio, and ignoring the racks of t-shirts with inspirational sayings, you will be treated to a 50-minute workout that will push you and have you returning for another session.

Strip away the scandals and focus on the benefits. There’s a lot to love about yoga

woman on pink yoga mat with hands extended

Strip away the scandals and focus
on the benefits. There's a lot
to love about yoga

How could anyone who embraces fitness, wellness, and balance dislike a centuries-old movement-based meditation practice? Yoga is linked to so many health benefits including calming your mind, toning your body, improving flexibility, and finding overall happiness. Why do you hate yoga?

And the fact is that I don’t hate yoga. I just hate how it’s perceived and what it’s a short-hand for in our society.

Unfortunate associations

Choudhury bikram yoga classI hate the corporatization of yoga and its connection to affluence. To be a real yogi, you need the right four-way stretch fabric and a special towel made from bamboo and unicorn tears. Yoga clothing carries astronomical price tags and is often made in unsafe work conditions. I think we can all remember when the CEO of Lululemon was caught out fat-shaming and insulting the very people who bought his clothes. It’s embarrassing, but it was part of a larger snobbery that separated appropriate yoga bodies from unsightly ones.

I hate the gurus. There are teachers who use adjustments as an opportunity to subtly touch their practitioners in a way that crosses the line. What about the power-hungry narcissists and sexual assaulters who gaslight their students to make excuses for bad behaviour? Or the enlightened individuals who preach humility and charity with one hand, while pushing unnecessary classes and workshops with the other? They abuse the trust of people who just want to be a little better than they were yesterday.

But I love yoga

With yoga comes the acceptance that we are all different. Just like we all struggle in life with different things, you can leave it all on the mat. You can sweat, flow, breathe, or just lie down. Every practice is different. The expectations you set for yourself differ every time until you learn not to set expectations. You learn to be present and take each pose as a mini-challenge.

TrainingSpaces owner Laura Rantin at the Grand Canyon.For many people, it’s hard to get back to the root of yoga because of all the bullshit. All the fake gurus and the cool clothes won’t take away the fact from the purity of breathing and focusing on the stretch. When you relax into a yoga pose, you’re treating yourself to some quiet time. You can tune out the world and all its violence, terror, and cruelty.

It’s easy to get caught up in the yoga lifestyle and the nastiness of it all. It’s easy to find ways to hate yoga. But it’s even better not to. Because yoga was here before the moisture-wicking fabric, and the predators, and the cool bags with extra pockets. And there’s something that endures about something that connects you to yourself — and challenges you to be a better person … one breath at a time.

Yoga meditation pose

Has yoga been good to you?

Tell us about your experiences with yoga! Any good stories? Any bad ones? An instructor you found especially helpful? A pose or position that was particularly difficult? Let us know in the comments!

Don’t let over-hyped evaluations get you down

Trainer discussing evaluation with client. Image credit: Youfit Health Clubs

Don't let over-hyped 'evaluations'
get you down

When you join a gym, many of them offer you a “free evaluation.” Fuelled with images of your new body and setting the record of pull-ups, you make an appointment with a gym personal trainer to see how close you are to your goal.

I have very rarely heard of these appointments going well. As a personal trainer, I am often confronted by my own clients following their initial evaluation. They could not perform the activities. They were called obese. They were pushed to perform exercises that damaged their body.

They felt like failures.

What my clients don’t realize is that there’s no such thing as a free evaluation. These one-on-one sessions are designed to sell personal training sessions. The gym environment is extremely competitive, and personal trainers often have to fight for clients. Offering new clients an evaluation is a trick to make them feel like they are extremely out of shape and can only be rescued by a personal trainer.

The fitness evaluation is a tricky thing. As there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to training, there is also no one-size-fits-all fitness evaluation. Instead, personal training is a give-and-take relationship with clients opening up about what they want from a session (or long-term plan) and a trainer constantly refining what exercises will help them achieve their goal. The trainers at most gyms quickly use a series of tests to gauge where they think a client is at — and select the exercises that will best highlight the weakness.

Evaluation as sales technique

I am not saying that personal trainers at gyms are unprofessional or unqualified. The truth is that they are under extreme pressure to retain their jobs and build a clientele. In a numbers-driven sales environment, trainers are pushed to make a hard sell to potential clients. These environments do not prioritize the trainer-client relationship. Instead, it’s about the numbers.

If you do join a gym and are offered a free evaluation, there’s nothing stopping you from giving it a try. Do not take the experience personally and remember the real reason behind the evaluation. However, there’s a simple way to test your fitness at a new gym that doesn’t involve the hard sell: take a class or try out a new piece of cardio equipment.

Instead of feeling badly about yourself, why not start your gym relationship positively? The potential to build a new skill and a challenge to conquer will keep you coming back to the gym — not feeling badly about yourself.